The smallest Xbox may be small in size, but does it pack a mighty punch worthy of being a next-generation console?
The Xbox Series S
The Xbox Series S, the smallest Xbox console and the first gaming console to ever be revealed on Twitter, is due to release in four days. Thanks to Xbox ANZ, I’ve been fortunate enough to have been able to play with the console and enjoy some of its features. This review will cover my first impressions and is by no means a final verdict on the console given that many of the games I’d love to try have not been released at the point of writing. A full review will be provided in due course. For now, let’s jump into what you can expect from the Series S.
What To Expect Upon Purchase
The Series S, like any other gaming console, comes in a nicely packaged box, though Xbox has taken a great deal to ensure the packaging is accessible in order for more gamers to play.
For a full run down of what you can expect to see in the box, check out the unboxing article here or the unboxing video here.
Setting Up The Console
Getting started with the Series S was painlessly easy. It was essentially a plug and play experience, though I did have to go through the initial set up process.
Unlike previous Xbox consoles, the Series S started up with a recommendation to set the console up by using the Xbox App, which is available via Google Play and the Apple Store. This method of setup lets users log-in via their mobile device and choose their console settings, saving valuable playing time.
I, personally, being a noob, found trying to find the right place within the Xbox App to set up my new console a challenge (I tend to go all in without reading instructions properly…whoops) and much prefer just following the on screen instructions and using my controller to navigate through the steps. After all, I’d much rather get things right than rushing in order to play.
The great thing about the Series S console though is that if you have a previous or current generation Xbox console, you have the option to transfer all (if not most) of your system settings to your new console as a part of setup.
During setup, at the “copy your settings” section, you will be able to restore your settings backup from a previous Xbox console that you’ve logged into, or set up the Series S as a brand new Xbox console. I decided to do the former and with a blink of an eye, all the settings I’ve had set up on my Xbox One X console transferred over to my Series S console. No fuss, no muss!
Optimised Games & Smart Delivery: What’s All That?
If you aren’t tech savvy like me, you might have found all the various terms being used when describing the next-generation Xbox consoles confusing and maybe, a little frightening. Optimised games? Smart delivery? Velocity architecture? These terms may sound so foreign to the average person but what they represent is quite simple.
Optimised games, in layman terms, essentially mean games that have been specially made (or or remade) natively using the Series X or Series S environment. This relates to both brand new games, as well as previously released titles.
This theoretically provides gamers playing on next-generation consoles improved load times, better visuals and steadier framerates at up to 120fps (“Frames Per Second”) (of which the Series S console is capable of).
Together with Velocity Architecture (a fancy way of saying new technology that allows for unparalleled speeds) the time it takes to load up and begin playing a game is greatly reduced compared to previous-generation consoles.
While testing the Series S and comparing it to my Xbox One X, I found that the load times between the two were quite different. Upon loading Gears 5, which is available on game pass, the Series S took seven seconds to load into my game in the campaign mode. Whereas the Xbox One X took thirty seconds, which actually felt like forever.
So what about Smart Delivery? Now this is a feature from Microsoft that I’m all for. Smart Delivery essentially allows you to purchase a Microsoft first party title once and the game will deliver the best possible version depending on what console you’re playing on. This means that you don’t have to upgrade or re-buy any of the current games you already own. You can rest assured that games like Sea of Thieves, Gears 5, Ori and the Will of the Wisps and many more will be optimised at their best for playing on the Series S console.
Visuals and aesthetics are a huge part of what makes or breaks a game for me, so learning that the Series S is also powered by Direct X Ray-tracing, is a huge deal for me. What this means is that the console is able to showcase certain games in more dynamic and realistic environments, including true-to-life lighting and reflections within in game worlds.
Whilst all this sounds great on paper, playing visually stunning games like Forza Horizon 4, Gears 5 and Sea of Thieves, didn’t look all too different from what I saw when playing it on my Xbox One X. The problem here is that without a 4K TV or a TV with an HDMI 2.1 input slot (which is recommended in order to take advantage of the console’s ability to hit 120fps), the games being played on next-generation consoles will not look all that different. Sure, there might be some minor improvements, particularly surrounding lighting and reflections, but this makes it difficult when trying to decide whether to pick up a Series S, Series X or just stick with a Xbox One X. Of course, there’s processing power to consider as well though, of which these two new consoles outshine the Xbox One.
By far, my favourite feature of the next-generation console has to be the backwards compatibility of games. Never again will we have to worry with great anxiety that our games, progress and achievements will be lost as soon as we upgrade to a new console. Not only do games, progress and achievements transfer over wherever you choose to play, but so do the peripherals and accessories as well. You know what that means? Your old or current Xbox One Wireless controllers will work perfectly well with the Series S and likewise, the new iteration of controllers, will work with your Xbox One family of devices.
This is one of the biggest selling points for gamers like myself who want to play the latest and greatest but aren’t quite prepared to drop thousands of dollars to upgrade an entire suite of gaming accessories in order to play.
Another reason why I love the backwards compatibility feature is due to the instantaneous load times where games have been installed on an external hard drive. Many of the games that I played on my Xbox One X console were installed onto the Seagate Game Drive. Upon setting up my Series S console and attaching my external Seagate Game Drive by way of the USB port behind the console, I was able to load up my games instantly without having to reinstall them all over again. Being able to just start up the console and play my favourite games makes for the best feature so far in my opinion.
Of course, games not installed on your external hard drive will not load up instantly despite being ‘attached’ to your Microsoft account. They will need to be installed again.
Games Running Together
It’s important to note that you can’t have the same game, being ‘played’ by the same user, running on two consoles at the same time. You’ll need to choose where to play. This might impact game sharing and allowing two users to ‘share’ one game and play it at the same time. This is something I have yet to test at this stage.
A feature that I was really keen to try out on the Series S was the quick resume feature. Quick Resume virtually stops your gameplay in a moment in time within the console’s internal storage. When pausing one game and loading up another, only to return to the previously played game, the console allows you to basically pick up where you left off without having to reload and wait. Neat huh?
I was able to test the Quick Resume feature switching between my game in Gears 5 straight into Marvel’s Avengers without having to wait for the game to load. Unfortunately, there’s been a bug identified that has impacted certain titles’ ability to function with Quick Resume, which made it challenging for me to test this out with every single game I owned. For example, switching back from Marvel’s Avengers to Gears 5 didn’t work as expected. In this instance, I’ll have to wait for a patch before being able to put this feature to the test.
With Marvel’s Avengers specifically, I had the game running on both the Xbox One X and Series S. When switching between the One X to the Series S, I managed to load into my actual game without having to go through the steps of selecting my game mode and waiting for the loading screen. That’s by far the coolest feature yet.
The Series S console comes with 512GB SSD internal storage, though the actual space available for your games is about 364GB. That’s not a lot considering that most new games these days are massive in size. I had only installed six games and my internal hard drive on the Series S was more than half full. That’s where external hard drives work wonders. The Series S comes with an external SSD port, which is where you’d slot in the Seagate Storage Expansion Card that’s compatible with the next-generation consoles. With the current expansion cards being at a maximum of 1TB storage, you’d still have to be quite careful with how you manage your games. If the SSD load times aren’t a big deal to you, attaching an external hard drive through the USB ports available is another way to expand the console’s storage capabilities. Of course, a standard hard drive is typically slower and consists of less processing power than an SSD. Honestly though, as someone who’s only ever used an internal SSD card and relied on external hard drives, there really isn’t a great difference if you’re the kind of person that can be a bit patient. This of course comes with years of experiencing dial up Internet speeds and other such ‘prehistoric’ technology. Perhaps today’s younger generation may not be able to cope as well! Either way, when it comes to storage, it’s not all doom and gloom. Prices for external SSD cards will eventually fall and hard drives are still a solid performer in the meantime.
Given its small size, it’s obvious that Xbox would’ve had to sacrifice and cutback somewhere when designing the Series S console. The sacrifice? The optical disc drive that most previous-generation consoles had. Unlike its big brother, the Xbox Series X, the Series S doesn’t come with a disc drive, which means you’ll be unable to play physical disc games. While this is a bit of a shame for those who still stand by physical media and possess their favourite games on disc, the Series S does make way for the future style of gaming, in that it focuses on going all digital and leveraging the Xbox Game Pass service. With over hundred games available on Xbox Game Pass, and more games being added each month, I can guarantee that you won’t feel like you’re missing out on the absence of a disc drive. As the world moves more into streaming, the Xbox Series S acts as the perfect one stop entertainment hub, with most of the popular streaming apps being available, such as Netflix, AnimeLab, Amazon Prime, Apple TV, YouTube and the like. There really isn’t a need for a disc drive if your entertainment is primarily being provided via these apps.
More To Come
All this is but the beginning of my journey with the Xbox Series S console and next-generation gaming. As more games become available and are optimised for the new consoles, I’ll be sure to provide updates here. Until then, I have to say that the Series S is so far, a little beast of a machine. Though small, it certainly does pack a punch, especially when comparing between the Xbox One and Xbox One S consoles. Without a better, more suitable TV or monitor, it’s a bit more challenging to determine whether the Series S is better than the Xbox One X where graphics is concerned. In terms of power though, the Series S has that in spades.
A huge shout out to Xbox ANZ once again for allowing me this opportunity to play with the Xbox Series S.